What are the ten best fighter aircraft out there, and which of these planes
are better than the others at the top of the heap? Fighters have one primary
mission: seize control of the air, and enable their side’s attack planes to get
through while also preventing the opposing side from attacking friendly forces
and bases. Many of these fighters have also proven themselves to be adept at
other roles (ground attack, anti-ship) as well, but their primary purpose is to
control the air.
10. The JAS.39 Gripen. This is a small single-seat
fighter using the American F404 turbofan engine. This aircraft is capable of
numerous missions (point-defense interceptor, ground attack fighter, and even
anti-shipping). It is highly maneuverable, and is a worthy successor to the
Draken and Viggen interceptors that Sweden has built. This is what the 1980s
F-20 Tigershark (an early competitor of the F-16 and F-18) could have been, had
it not been stillborn.
9. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This is the ultimate
Hornet, without the range limitations of the F/A-18A/B/C/D, and with two extra
weapons pylons. This fighter is based on a proven design, and has even been used
as a tanker with the premature retirement of the S-3 Viking. Sheer versatility –
and improvement from the original make the Super Hornet’s place on this list a
8. F-15C Eagle. This is perhaps one of the last of the
single-purpose aircraft. This plane has done one thing for 30 years (air-to-air
combat), and done it well (over 100 kills to no losses). However, what is
remarkable is the almost-untapped potential the airframe has as a ground-attack
platform. The F-15E Strike Eagle has become a superb multi-role fighter.
However, the F-15 has gotten long in the tooth for air superiority.
F-16C Fighting Falcon. This is a bird that has become a classic. Widely
exported, and it has amassed a solid record. Still being built to special order
for export customers, it not only has scored air-to-air kills in service with
the United States, Israel, and Pakistan, but it is also one of the most numerous
modern fighters in service today.
6. Su-27 Flanker. This was built to
counter the F-15, and it has become one of the more feared aircraft out of
Russia. Highly maneuverable, it is equipped and designed for a dogfight, it has
been exported. The wide export market for this plane and its variants (the Su-30
in particular) is the primary reason for the F-22.
5. F-14D Tomcat. This
is a plane that had aged like fine wine. Originally designed to face the Tu-22M3
Backfire bomber in protection of American carriers, it has become a
carrier-launched version of the F-15E. Capable of long-range attacks using the
AIM-54 Phoenix, the F-14 proved it was capable of dogfighting in two incidents
with Libya (the U.S. Navy fighters scored four kills for no losses). This is a
plane retiring before its time.
4. Eurofighter Typhoon. A low-observable
multi-role fighter. It is fast, maneuverable, and carries a lot of air-to-air
missiles. It also can be used for attack missions as well. This is a fighter
that will be the backbone of at least four air forces (the UK, Spain, Germany,
3. Dassault Rafale. Another European multi-role fighter with
some stealth built in, this aircraft not only carries out the air-to-air and
attack missions, it also comes in a naval version. Its first export order was
recently signed – to Saudi Arabia. Equipped with French air-to-air missiles, it
edges out the Eurofighter since its naval version could interest other countries
who have carriers (Brazil and India come to mind).
2. F-35. This plane
will be the new F-16 in ten years. Not only is this replacing the F-16, the
A-10, the AV-8B, and some F/A-18s in U.S. service, but it will replace aircraft
in other countries as well. Like the F-16, it will be produced in numbers. When
it enters service, it will outclass many aircraft.
1. F/A-22 Raptor. This
is the F-15C’s replacement. Entering service this year, it renders every other
air-superiority aircraft obsolete. This is a plane that can not only outfly any
other plane in the world, outrun any other plane in the world, and it can do so
while remaining virtually unseen. The F-22 is a true heir to the F-15, and could
do so in another fashion if Lockheed’s FB-22 proposal takes off.